CGIE: The meeting of “Old Hajj” was held for the premiere of the oldest film of the Hajj rituals according to the Europeans, on the 8th of Shawwal, the anniversary of the destruction of the shrine of the imams buried in the Baqi cemetery. The session was held on Tuesday evening, May 10, 2022, at the Amir al-Moʼmenin Hall of the Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia. In this session, after screening the 74-minute documentary, Ahmad Ebrahimi, filmmaker and researcher, introduced the documentary.
He, pointing out that the film was made by Georg Krugers, a Dutch filmmaker in 1928, said: The filmmaker traveled to Hejaz on February 3, 1928 (13th of Bahman, 1306/10th of Shaʻban, 1346 AH) with the Muslims of the Dutch East Indies. The journey started from Indonesia and continued until the season of Hajj and Eid al-Adha, i.e., 9th of Khordad, 1307. Because his wife had acquaintances in Indonesia, he was able to get a permit and board the ship for free.
Since he knew that the entry of non-Muslims into the cities of Mecca and Medina was prohibited, he pretended to be a Muslim to enter the Two Holy Mosques. Therefore, in the scenes of Jeddah, the camera was close to the pilgrims, but in Mecca, the scenes were mostly filmed from above. The journey ended on July 8, 1928 (7th of Tir, 1307), and the film was shown in the fall of the same year in the Netherlands. The producer tried to show the documentary at the Paris exhibition, but it was not welcomed and was only shown once or twice.
Two years ago, we found out that the original version of this film is available in the Amsterdam Eye Film Museum in the Netherlands. The interesting scene of the documentary is the remains of the destroyed Eve’s tomb in Jeddah - and this is why this city is called Jeddah (which means grandmother). Also, the holy graves of the Baqi imams were destroyed two years before, and about three years before that, because of the Saudis’ disrespect for the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, Hajj travel from Iran was banned for five years.
This newly-found silent documentary is the oldest film of Hajj rituals so far. However, there must be older films. Ernest Schoedsack, one of the directors of “Alaf” documentary - which was made in 1925 about the Bakhtiari nomads - made a film about Hajj before, but the original version was destroyed in a fire.
Ebrahimi added about the other documentaries of Hajj rituals: The first color film of Kaʻba was made by Iranians, the Omidvar brothers, in 1961 and was shown in 1964. A year later, Abolqasem Rezaei made the documentary “The House of God”, filmed by Nemat Haqiqi and its text was written by Ebrahim Golestan. This was the only Iranian documentary about Hajj that was made with the Iranian and Saudi governments’ official permission and information. It was shown in cinemas on Wednesday, 30th of Azar, 1345 (8th of Ramadan, 1386 AH). For its screening, the curtains were removed so that the religious people could also go to the cinema. It is interesting to know that those who watched the film were called pilgrims by the fellows and were told: “May Allah accept your pilgrimage!” Even the first cinema in Qom was opened with this movie in 1969. Also, the documentary was the first Iranian movie sold worldwide and translated into six languages. After the Islamic revolution in Iran, the first documentary was made by Mohammad Javad Ganjizadeh in 1979 and narrated by Behrouz Razavi. It was also considered the first film about the ritual of “aversion to the pagans”.
The second speaker of the session was the scientific deputy of the Centre for the Great Islamic Encyclopaedia, who lectured on “The importance of the heritage of Hejaz”.
Ali Bahramian talked about Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1115-1206 AH/ 1704-1792) who left for the city of Ad Diriyah in the summer of 1157 AH/ 1745, and Muhammad ibn Saud welcomed him at the insistence of his wife and brothers. He became the son-in-law of the Saud family, and the union between Ibn Saud and Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab changed the Arabian Peninsula’s fate and impacted other Islamic lands. The Saudi army first conquered a large part of Najd, and the spread of religious calling proceeded with military force and killing and destruction. They in Dhi Hijjah of 1206 AH/ 1792 attacked Karbala and massacred its residents, and then, during the years 1220 to 1221/ 1806-1807 finally, they dominated Mecca and Medina.
On the other hand, it is not a secret to those familiar with the history and culture of the Islamic period that in the first centuries after Islam, the jurists and scholars of hadith had a significant role in spreading the thinking of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamāʻah. In particular, it is necessary to mention the circles of hadith companions. Still, after the invasion of the Mongols and major political and social changes, those circles were broken little by little, and the citation of hadith and the permission to it became more formal and were very limited, compared to the past.
However, in the 10th and 11th AH/ 16th and 17th centuries, apparently, the formation of hadith circles flourished again, especially in Mecca and during the Hajj season. With the emergence of the Safavid dynasty in Iran with the strong Shiʻa background, the formation of hadith circles, which were actually the intellectual and practical base of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamāʻah, could not take root in Iran. But in the east and northeast of Iran, and especially in the Subcontinent (India), Transoxiana, and Central Asia, Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamāʻah scholars recognized Hajj season as a time to strengthen their foundations, and a significant number of hadith chains reach the sheikhs of Mecca and Medina of the era. This movement spread to North Africa and many other regions. The book “Fihris al-Fahāris” by Katani is a good source for reflecting on hadith circles of the time. According to such history, it seems that the roots of Salafism can be traced back to a period before Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and the alliance with House of Saud in Hejaz.
He continued: Preserving and identifying the peninsula’s ancient heritage of all kinds is vital, not only for the land itself but also for better identification of the birthplace of Islam. Some archaeological discoveries of recent years, including inscriptions and tombstones related to the first century AH, are significant in terms of script, language, and content. Some have modified or completed the opinions of researchers and Islamic scholars. There is not much information in historical and non-historical works of non-Muslims about the time of the rise of Islam. Classical historians have written less about it, to the extent that some orientalists have doubted or denied the authenticity of the narratives of the Islamic period. But fortunately, the Saudi government, which for a long time destroyed the historical evidence under the pretext of “erasing the traces of polytheism” and did not even allow archeology, has now opened the doors. They have realized that hiding the past and, more tragic than that, destroying the historical heritage, in the first place will harm their country, probably the Arab world, and finally the Islamic world.
He noted that knowing about Hajj is also crucial. Hajj has maintained the relationship of Muslims with this land throughout history. Although there are various travelogues and documents and lately illustrations and paintings, mainly from Westerners, about Hajj, such films have a special place for better understanding. Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, a Dutch orientalist (1857-1936), is notable among the antecedent orientalists who studied Hajj. He authored his doctoral dissertation in 1880 about Hajj. Hurgronje went to Saudi Arabia and stayed there for months to know about the environment of the emergence of Islam directly. In this way, he even pretended that he had become Muslim. Of course, his research was meaningfully related to the Dutch colonial goals in East Asia.
In this film, the focus is on the pilgrims of the same region. It is not unlikely that the production of the film is also a result of the Dutch Orientalist ideas about the importance of the Hajj ceremony in unifying Muslims and anti-colonialism, and in the later stages, it could trigger fighting against Western manifestations. This issue is significant, considering the time of this film and the persistence of the House of Saud in the Arabian Peninsula.
The last lecturer was Seyyed Ali Mujani, researcher and author, who talked about “How were the historical monuments of Hejaz destroyed?”.
Referring to Moqtada al-Sadr’s recent tweet advising Mohammed bin Salman to rebuild Baqi, Mujani said: I wondered what he saw in the future politics of Saudi Arabia and whether or not a substantial change has happened in their approach toward the historical heritage.
He added: Since about two years ago, archaeological areas that were previously inaccessible to non-Saudi nationals became accessible with a change of approach towards Saudi historical studies, and this reveals that they are occupied with rewriting their modern history. This approach became more prominent for them particularly after the war in Yemen. Since Saudi Arabia was an agreement government that was established during a treaty on a ship in the Red Sea and no effort was made for its establishment, the current war with Yemen is their first military conflict and will have a vital effect on the stabilization and future of their government. As a result, the need to study contemporary history is felt more than ever. If our approach is not negative, we should encourage the countries of the Persian Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, to study their history of the last two centuries.
Mujani added: After Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab became the son-in-law of the Saud family, they expanded their territory from Najd, and in this regard, they massacred five thousand people in Karbala and surrounded Najaf for four months and then destroyed the tombs of imams in Baqi cemetery. At the same time, in Cairo, the Khedive government, in Baghdad, the Ottoman vizier, and in Mecca, the Shorafa family ruled. Still, the House of Saud had expanded its territory from Muscat and Baghdad to Jeddah and Taif. In the meantime, their relations with Iran were not favorable and appropriate because, after the first period of the Iran-Russia war, the Wahhabis were suppressed.
This film, made after these events, reveals what kind of civilization existed in Mecca and Medina a hundred years ago. This country was a place for many passengers and steamships and, therefore, a tremendous amount of capital circulation. Watching the documentary reminds us to refer to the history of this region and the content evolution which will take place in its approach in the next half-century. It is believed that we will be facing an entirely different region, which reminds us of the need to study the region’s contemporary history by relying on new documents for the development of relations and reducing the tensions.
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